Positional Grades: Steelers vs. Browns


What a mess.

Entering Sunday’s matchup against the Cleveland Browns on the road with rookie fifth-round quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson set to make his second NFL start, things looked like they were lining up for the Steelers.

And then, the game was played. The Steelers fell flat on their faces on the offensive side of the football with the exception Jaylen Warren, and now sit at 6-4 on the season after an ugly 13-10 loss to the Browns, who move ahead of them in the AFC North standings.

The defense held Cleveland to just 3.5 yards per play, won the turnover battle and forced eight punts. Yet, the Steelers lost the game as Cleveland drove down the field in the final minutes and kicked a game-winning field goal. Pittsburgh’s offense wasted a good defensive showing, generating just 249 yards of total offense, including just 106 passing yards from Kenny Pickett.


Let’s get to some grades.

QB — F

Another week, another dreadful performance from Pickett.

It’s becoming a theme at this point with the offense under Pickett. Place blame wherever you’d like with the offensive issues. Fact remains, Pickett has been one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL the last three weeks. He’s just not producing, is not seeing things he should be seeing, isn’t attacking the middle of the field and isn’t on the same page with his receivers.

It is beyond concerning at this point.

In the loss to the Browns, Pickett was just 14-of-27 for 106 yards, averaging 3.8 yards per completion — the same amount as Thompson-Robinson, who quite frankly outplayed Pickett in the game.

The aggressiveness just isn’t there. He’s not throwing deep, he’s high on throws at times, and he really just seems unsure of himself. He can say what he wants about always being confident, but his play and body language in-game tell a different story.

RB — A-

Jaylen Warren should probably be the Steelers’ starting running back at this point. He is the offense right now, and that’s saying something.

Against the Browns, Warren finished with a career-high 129 yards with one touchdown on nine carries, ripping off a 74-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage in the second half, breaking a tackle in the hole and then running away from everyone. He also added a 21-yard run that should realistically win him the “Angry Runs” scepter this week from Good Morning Football’s Kyle Brandt.

Warren also added three receptions for 16 yards, including a key 14-yard gain on a 3rd and 13 to move the chains and keep the drive alive, leading to the Steelers tying the game.

Najee Harris wasn’t all that bad, either, though it was very clear when he was in the game that Cleveland was loading the box to take him away. Harris had 35 yards on 12 carries but did have a 17-yard run in the loss. He started the game strong, averaging 5.3 yards per carry at the half, but then the Browns adjusted. The Steelers…did not.

WR — C-

Hard to really have takes on the receivers one way or another when the passing game is this bad.

George Pickens led the Steelers with four receptions for 38 yards. He had a great grab late in the fourth quarter for a 12-yard gain on a pass that was pretty bad from Pickett. Pickens bailed him out. Pickens also had a 14-yard gain in the first half along the sideline. But it was too few and far between in the passing game.

Diontae Johnson was visibly frustrated throughout the game. He and Pickett weren’t on the same page for the second straight week. He had just two catches for 16 yards, though he was targeted eight times. A lot of throws were high in his direction, too.

Allen Robinson II had a decent game, finishing with three receptions for 20 yards, including a key catch in traffic to set up Pickett’s quarterback sneak for a first down. He was a key blocker throughout the game, too.

TE — D

It was nice to see Pat Freiermuth back in the lineup, but he was largely ineffective.

Freiermuth had one catch for seven yards on a well-timed tight end screen, but he ran right into the back of his blocker and into the grasp of the only defender within 5-10 yards of him, failing to see the green grass around him. He was a zero as a blocker, too, getting blown into the backfield a few times in the run game.

Darnell Washington really struggled in the run game, too. He was knocked on his butt on one play that resulted in a loss for the Steelers and really didn’t have all that much of an impact overall. He had one catch for eight yards, too, but it came up short of the sticks on third down.

OL — C-

I liked the work that the offensive linemen did on the ground throughout the game.

They opened up a lot of holes for Warren and Harris and really got after the Browns downhill. Broderick Jones and Mason Cole had key blocks to spring Warren on his 74-yard touchdown, while Isaac Seumalo had a nice block on Warren’s 12-yard run in the fourth quarter.

There were some misses in the run game, though. Seumalo was blown up on a Najee Harris run in the fourth quarter that stalled a drive, while James Daniels had some issues at times. Seumalo and Daniels were good in the screen game though, as was Cole.

Dan Moore Jr. had a horrendous rep early in the game leading to a Myles Garrett sack that should have been a safety. Garrett added another sack later in the game, too, finishing with two in the game. The Browns had three sacks and four quarterback hits in the win.

DL — B-

Pittsburgh held the Browns under 100 rushing yards, taking away what Cleveland likes to do best. The Browns rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry in the win. That’s a very respectable number for the Steelers to hold them to.

The Steelers controlled up front throughout defensively. Cameron Heyward had five tackles and a tackle for loss, living in the Cleveland backfield.

Keeanu Benton had four tackles and had a key effort play for the second straight week. Armon Watts had three tackles as a key rotational piece and Larry Ogunjobi had one tackle and one quarterback hit, though he was around the football quite a bit.

Pittsburgh held up on the goal line in the first quarter, too. There was no substantial evidence to change that call to a touchdown, regardless of what Gene Steratore stated.

The only real issue with the defensive line is that it didn’t generate much pressure at all. Kind of hard to do though when Cleveland consistently got the ball off in under 2.2 seconds.

LB — B-

Take a bow, Elandon Roberts.

The veteran was the best defensive player on the field for the Steelers Sunday. Roberts finished with 15 tackles and two tackles for loss. He was everywhere on the day. With the Steelers rather thin at the ILB position due to injuries, Roberts stepped up in a big way. There were some communication issues at times, but that was to be expected with so many new faces.

Roberts had a whale of a game though.

Mykal Walker had two tackles in his Steelers debut, though he did have a missed tackle right before the Cleveland touchdown. He whiffed in the backfield on Jerome Ford, setting up Ford’s touchdown one play later. Mark Robinson didn’t get much run and had just one tackle.

Outside, T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith were largely quiet as pass rushers, but that’s more due to how quickly Cleveland got the football out, rather than the Browns tackles winning the matchups. Watt had a sack in the fourth quarter that helped Pittsburgh’s defense get off the field. He had six tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits for the Steelers.

Highsmith had six tackles and played well against the run, setting the edge. The Browns just had the right game plan though.

DB — C-

Rookie Joey Porter Jr. drew the tough assignment of Amari Cooper. He has handled himself well in recent weeks, but he struggled against Cooper. He had two penalties called on him, giving him six in the last two weeks. He really struggled in press man against Cooper, giving up some key completions, especially on the final drive of the game.

Learning experience for the rookie, without a doubt. Porter finished with six tackles and had a pass breakup in the end zone late in the first half to force Cleveland to settle for a field goal.

Patrick Peterson had a nice play in coverage, jumping a route to bat down a pass, but outside of that was rather quiet. Chandon Sullivan recorded his first career interception for the Steelers, picking off a deflected pass to give the Steelers the ball back in the third quarter.

Safety Trenton Thompson had some moments in his first start with the Steelers. He had six tackles, was around the football quite a bit and should have had a pick-six in the second half. But the sun was in his eyes and led to him dropping the pass. Damontae Kazee had five tackles in the loss and was flying around , as was Elijah Riley before he exited the game with an ankle injury and was ruled out.

Special Teams — B-

Chris Boswell drilled his 28-yard field goal and added an extra point, though the Browns got their hands on the extra point. Boswell was just too powerful though, muscling the ball through the upright for the extra point after Warren’s long run.

Pressley Harvin III was good at times, but then had a woeful 20-yard punt in the fourth quarter that nearly cost the Steelers. He can go weeks without mistakes, but then they come fast and furious. He averaged just 39.4 yards on eight punts, the Steelers downing four punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He also outkicked his coverage once, too, allowing Cleveland’s James Proche to rip off a 21-yard punt return, setting the Browns up nicely.

Calvin Austin III had a nice day in the return game after his first punt return, letting the ball bounce inside the 10-yard line, putting the Steelers in bad field position for their first drive of the game.

Austin averaged 17 yards per punt return and had a 21-yard return of his own.

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